Coming Soon:

The following books by Robert Paul Wolff are available on Amazon.com as e-books: KANT'S THEORY OF MENTAL ACTIVITY, THE AUTONOMY OF REASON, UNDERSTANDING MARX, UNDERSTANDING RAWLS, THE POVERTY OF LIBERALISM, A LIFE IN THE ACADEMY, MONEYBAGS MUST BE SO LUCKY, AN INTRODUCTION TO THE USE OF FORMAL METHODS IN POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY.
Now Available: Volumes I, II, III, and IV of the Collected Published and Unpublished Papers.

NOW AVAILABLE ON YOUTUBE: LECTURES ON KANT'S CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON. To view the lectures, go to YouTube and search for "Robert Paul Wolff Kant." There they will be.

To contact me about organizing, email me at rpwolff750@gmail.com




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Thursday, September 5, 2013

OFF TO THE NATION'S CAPITOL

I am flying up to Washington at the crack of dawn tomorrow to visit my big sister, Barbara [whose reading suggestions I have shared with you], so I shan't be blogging for the next several days.  Before I leave, I should like to comment once more on the Syria business, and particularly on the debate now taking place on the President's request for Congressional authorization for a "limited strike" against Syria.

I have already indicated that I think the strike is a really bad idea, leaning heavily for my judgment on William Polk's invaluable analysis posted here.  But the fact of the debate, and they way  it is playing out, is really very interesting.  It constitutes, I believe, a tiny step away from the unfettered Imperial Presidency with which we have all been living for the past sixty years and more.  If, mirabile dictu, the vote goes against Obama, he will have a really difficult choice to make:  whether to abide by the vote, thus acknowledging limits on the power of the presidency, or to order the strike anyway, thereby telling everyone in American public life that his request for authorization was a charade.

I am old enough to have lived through the enormous expansion of presidential power during World War II and the years immediately thereafter.  Since I am no sort of American historian, I shall not attempt a capsule description of that fateful expansion, but perhaps I can offer a purely personal reminiscence of the early stages of the transformation of America's president into Emperor or King.  The next few paragraphs come from my Memoir, A Life in the Academy, Volume One, Chapter Five:

"I spent that last summer finishing my manuscript and preparing to leave Cambridge.  In late August, I wrapped up the book and decided to take a little vacation.  Since I had never visited Washington D. C., and now knew several people in the new Kennedy Administration, I took the train down to spend a week there.  I checked into a hotel near the train station and went round to various office buildings to visit my friends.  They were tremendously excited by their new jobs, but as I spent time with them, I grew more and more uneasy.  It was all a bit like the court at Versailles under the ancien rĂ©gime.  There was a great deal of gossip, and a constant anxiety about the thoughts, the feelings, the preferences, the moods of one person, the President.

When I went over to the Capitol to take a look at Congress, my view of the government changed entirely.  I spent several days in the visitors' gallery of the Senate, watching debates and votes.  The fact that it was the one cool place I had found in a steamy town may have had something to do with my reaction.  I watched with great amusement as Everett Dirksen protested his love of duck hunting and hunters, imitating to great effect a duck settling onto a pond at sunset.   Apparently the government had imposed a tax on duck hunting in order to raise money for wetlands preservation, and then had used the money to drain swamps for development.  The duck hunters of America wanted a five million dollar appropriation to make things right, and Dirksen, who was opposing all spending that week on grounds of fiscal responsibility, was trying to convince the duck hunters of Illinois that he felt their pain.  I watched the great maverick, Wayne Morse, bellow to an empty chamber that he was not going to kowtow to the Catholic Church, with regard to what I can no longer recall.  And I watched as all but two of the senators came to the floor to vote on the renewal of the Civil Rights Commission.

What attracted me so greatly was the fact that each of these men and women was an independent person, beholden only to his or her constituents, and not subservient to the President, regardless of how charismatic and powerful he might be.  These were men and women with honor, not servile courtiers hoping to be given pride of place on a balcony or in a presidential jet.  Exactly the same sentiments welled up in me as I watch octogenarian Robert Byrd deliver speech after speech calling George W. Bush to account for the damage he did to the U. S. Constitution.

It was fun visiting Marc Raskin in the Executive Office Building, and listening to the rumors about Kennedy and Marc's secretary, Diane DeVegh.  It was interesting hearing Dick Barnet talk about the inside story at the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.  But it was ennobling to watch the debates on the floor of the Senate.  I think it was that week in a hot Washington summer, rather than any of the books I had read, that once for all time soured me on the Imperial Presidency."

In the fifty-two years since that summer, things have only gotten worse and worse.  It is now impossible in public discourse even to call into question the Imperial Presidency without being considered a fringe nut from the right or the left.  I suspect that in some corner of his mind Obama understands some of this, although he has neither the political courage nor the will to act on that glimmer of understanding.  But if this vote does something, anything, to place limits on presidential power, it will be worth the tedium of listening to John Kerry.
 

26 comments:

Chris said...

"the fact of the debate, and they way it is playing out, is really very interesting. It constitutes, I believe, a tiny step away from the unfettered Imperial Presidency with which we have all been living for the past sixty years and more. If, mirabile dictu, the vote goes against Obama, he will have a really difficult choice to make:"

He will invade Libya anyway! Oh wait, that exact same scenario already played out. Why act as if Obama is taking a foot back from Imperialism, when in Libya he proved the opposite?

Chris said...

" I suspect that in some corner of his mind Obama understands some of this, although he has neither the political courage nor the will to act on that glimmer of understanding. But if this vote does something, anything, to place limits on presidential power, it will be worth the tedium of listening to John Kerry."

I have to wonder what papers you read, to continue to pretend that deep down Obama is the progressive president we all hoped for. The man literally redefined all adult males in a strike zone as enemy combatants. That's a massive leap forward for imperialism.

As far as the war powers act goes, you and I literally debated this before, on your blog, as to how Obama was expanding the war powers act; have you forgotten so soon?

See here:

http://robertpaulwolff.blogspot.com/2011/03/some-comments-on-comments.html

Michael Llenos said...

People keep on saying 'What are a couple thousand Syrian civilians (who had their lives horribly ended in Syria by chemical attacks ordered by Assad) compared with the poor 100,000 Syrians who tragically died because of machine gun fire and tank shells of the Assad regime?'

But this really is not about numbers but about International Law and about higher moral standards we have today in the use of modern weaponry. And remember, sometimes laws and political foreign actions are made not just to punish a wrong but to serve as a deterrent for any future wrongs: especially if the outcome of any future wrong could be worse than anything possibly imagined.

American Caesar, General Douglas MacArthur, wanted to drop bombs on Chinese troops to swiftly turn the tables for the American advantage during the Korean War, but advances in International Law, and higher standards in foreign policy, forced MacArthur out of the Army because President Harry Truman now held these higher standards during the Korean War--and this was the same man that invented the Truman Doctrine and dropped those two evil bombs on Japanese civilians!

As my former Asian-History Professor once told me, we do not operate strategically or tactically, like we did during WW2 because now we have higher standards in waging war.

Who knows, maybe the use of drone attacks will be outlawed by international law in one year because of their opposition to the moral law and their covert tyrannical abuse of power?

And I am not saying drone attacks do not save lives in a surgical way, what I am saying is that their use is not overt, creating an abuse of power.

Michael Llenos said...

By the way...

I do not want people digress away from the main topic. I am really split on the use of military drones. I don't really know either way if they are truly good or truly bad, Enough said....

Chris said...

"As my former Asian-History Professor once told me, we do not operate strategically or tactically, like we did during WW2 because now we have higher standards in waging war."

Like torture? Like rendition? Like redefining all males in a strike zone as enemy combatants? like indefinite detention? Like killing american citizens in foreign countries without due process? Like creating noticeable and stark terror in civilization populations by flying silent drones over their head?

Michael Llenos said...

Well, now we certainly don't use atomic weaponry, like we did during WW2, or chemical agents, like Agent Orange, which we used during the Vietnam War; and don't forget the mass carpet bombings, of urban population centers, that really only ended with the Korean cease fire of 1953.

Michael Llenos said...

I wrote:

that really only ended

I meant to say, but did not edit the text as:

that ended

NotHobbes said...

Agent Orange used in Vietnam, depleted uranium used in both Iraq and Afghanistan
Any noxious and foul weaponry seems to have moral justification just so long as we in the West are the ones pulling the trigger
Find all this moral high ground stuff rather nauseating to be honest

Chris said...

So your evidence that the US has improved since WWII, is that we used chemicals weapons after WWII?

Michael Llenos said...

NotHobbes,

I suppose you mean, by depleted uranium: Apache helicopter rounds, or something like that, which do not have the same destructive power as atomic bombs.

Chris,

I meant to say that post-Vietnam War U.S. weaponry ethics have improved since WW2. Therefore, our standards nowadays have improved since WW2.

Almost everything has a certain degree of torture to it. Which is why some people would rather be executed by hanging than die via a tiger shark's jaws. I myself would rather be killed instantly in the head by a AK47 round than die slowly by a toxic chemical attack. Some people would rather die in their sleep instead of dying awake.

And if you look to the causes of death in war, and not just to the end result of each death, you will be mature enough to realize that some ways of dying are worse than others.

And by the way, this game of finding simple contradictions in premises and conclusions, instead of focusing on the gist and substance of what someone is trying to say, is very juvenile if you ask me.

Chris said...

Well I mean it's logic 101 to see if an argument is sound by assessing the premises. If logic 101 is juvenile, we could go back to just how we feel about things, without being rational...

Anyway, since WWII and Vietnam the US has ACTUALLY tortured, which is worse than things that have "a certain degree of torture".

Also, as I said earlier, I don't see how indefinite detention, reclassifying all males in a strikes zone as enemy combatants, and executing Americans in war without due process is an improvement....

Chris said...

And this is just silly sounding:
" post-Vietnam War U.S. weaponry ethics have improved since WW2. "

Why not just say POST VIETNAM, weapon ethics improved. To pick a date prior to the war improvement, backs that prior date irrelevant. You might as well say, post Korean War, US weapon ethics have improved since the war of 1812. The dates have no connection, and seem arbitrary.

By the way, as recently as 1988 the US helped Sadam use chemical weapons:

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2013/08/25/secret_cia_files_prove_america_helped_saddam_as_he_gassed_iran

And let's not forget that Israel used white phosphorous from the US to kill Palestinians in 2008....And in 2004 the US used white phosphorous that killed Iraqi children. We are also the only country that refuses to outlaw the use of landmines and cluster bombs.

Our police also fired tear gas on US citizens during Occupy Wall Street (many of whom were SENIOR citizens).

So again, your argument isn't sound because your premises are just factually false. It's not me being juvenile, it's empirical facts that dis-confirm your argument. It's like I'm happy, or want the US to behave this way...You're just oddly blindly patriotic.

Chris said...

Sorry I meant, it's NOT like I'm happy or want the US to behave this way.

NotHobbes said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
NotHobbes said...

@Michael Llenos,
Of course they don't have the same destructive power as an atomic bomb, nothing does.
Unfortunately, I can't get the link to work! Wanted to post paper which is available on JSTOR; outlines research into long term health effects of depleted uranium shells by the US troops who handled them. Research being conducted on behalf of Baltimore Veterans Association
No one as yet knows the lasting impact upon humans or the environment of deploying weapons using depleted uranium

Chris said...

Here's at least part of a study on the effects of DU regarding birth defects:
http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs00128-012-0817-2

Michael Llenos said...

Chris,

I am not talking about what the CIA etc. gave to Hussein, I am talking about the use of weaponry by the U.S. military since the Vietnam War and WW2.

And the original argument was if we improved in weapons ethics since WW2. Someone brought up Korea and Vietnam so I had to make the point that I am talking about after the Vietnam War, meaning: the present.

And I am not talking about Israel or the police in New York etc., but rather what the U.S. military is using as weapons in the present on enemy combatants.

My former professor, who taught about various countries in Asia, is very far from being inept. My question was: Why doesn't the U.S. military use tactics against civilians nowadays which we used in WW2? The answer was: We now have higher standards.

If you've read Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography, in the beginning of that text, he talks about his evolution of rhetoric. First he used abrupt contradiction and then positive argumentation, 2nd he used the humble inquirer and doubter, and finally he believed that even the second method should be dropped for the sake of expressing oneself with statements like: I imagine it to be so, or I think it is,or if I am not mistaken it to be so, etc..

So I guess what I am trying to say is that if you destroy general arguments for the sake of particulars that any generalized argument can be destroyed. But if you continue to do this, you will never reach the truth of anything but only sulk in your negative attitude forever.

If generalities are probabilities, specifics of those generalities can always be attacked as specific probabilities. But one should not just argue by absolute facts, and apriori arguments, and tekmerions, but also by probabilities, since there is still truth in probabilities.

And arguing always by premises versus conclusions is rediculous and irritating and insulting: proof of this is when young people start to argue and challenge the world, they start by means of hypocrisy and contradiction only, and they only humble themselves later on in life when they realize that hypocrisy and contradictions have there place in life as well.

Chris said...

This makes no rational sense:
" I am talking about the use of weaponry by the U.S. military since the Vietnam War and WW2.

And the original argument was if we improved in weapons ethics since WW2. Someone brought up Korea and Vietnam "

Since WWII it was shown that actions in Vietnam reveal we had not "raised our standards of war". Okay, so the thesis that we have improved since WWII needs to be jettisoned, and it now needs to be picked up as "since Vietnam we have raised our standards". And, well, the facts show we haven't.



"So I guess what I am trying to say is that if you destroy general arguments for the sake of particulars that any generalized argument can be destroyed."

This is false.
All men are mortal
socrates is a male
ergo socrates is mortal

Find a particular that refutes that deduction.

" But if you continue to do this, you will never reach the truth of anything but only sulk in your negative attitude forever."

My disagreement with you on war tactics does reflect a negative attitude regarding war (and anyone that has a positive attitude regarding war probably needs counseling), but it does not reflect sulking, or a perennially negative attitude in general.


When it comes to war, our general policies (all men in a strike zone are enemy combatants - all men in guantanimo can be detained indefinitely - all US citizens over seas are up for assassination without due process if the President deems it okay - all civilians in a country that has US aggressors are prone to terror by US drones - etc) have devastating particular consequences. One that I dare not say reflect "higher standards", but instead reflect changes in technology. Again, there is no way that toleration of American citizen assassination, reclassifying all males in a strike zone as enemies, and engaging in torture and indefinite detention, is a "high standard". If anything it's a lower standard!

Michael Llenos said...

All men are mortal
Socrates is a male
Ergo socrates is mortal

Find a particular that refutes that deduction.

How about Jesus was ressurected immortal, Elijah went up to heaven in a chariot and therfore didn't die, and some men die after becoming women. Plus, Socrates could have been a woman.

There is an exception to every rule, and if you don't believe that, in this finite Universe we live in, than you're either foolish or mad. If you are not an omniscient being, how could you have 100% knowledge of anything?

Chris said...

So now you're going to insult me and call me foolish instead of addressing the substantive and empirical claims myself and NotHobbes have made regarding war practice since WWII (e.g., depleted uranium and torture).


You presume I am a Christian, or at the very least will accept that Christ was resurrected. I am not a Christian, so these examples do not work, and to say Socrates may be a woman is semantics and equviocation. That was a deduction, and it doesn't matter what particular masculine name I choose, so long as ALL men are mortal, then ANY male chosen, will be mortal too, by the logical formulation. So your examples don't necessarily refute what I said.

Hell, even if I was a Christian they don't refute it. Because Christ wasn't a man, he was a god. I never said All gods are mortal.


"There is an exception to every rule"
?

1. There is an exception to every rule
2. This is a rule
therefore there is an exception to it. Therefore there is not an exception to every rule. Easily a contradictory position to be in.

Anyway, has behavior improved since WWII? Obviously not because you accept that Vietnam was quite awful (think Kissinger's bombings of Cambodia, and the overall death toll).

Okay, so now we have a new question: 1)has war improved since Vietnam? And, if so, A)is it due to higher moral standards or B) a chance in technology?

I say NO to 1. Why do you say YES to 1, and NO to B), given the following:

We have tortured in droves

We now redefined all males, de jure, in a strike zone to be enemy combatants (this is not a counter example particular, this is a new law of war).

We can legally detain enemy combatants without due process, indefinitely (also a new law, not a particular counter example).

American men suspected of aiding the enemy, without due process, can be assassinated (again, not a particular counter example, but a genuine new law).

The depleted uranium used in Iraq has caused hundreds of thousands of health consequences, and will continue to do so for decades.


Again, I am not just pointing to some outlier examples in war. I am pointing to new policies that been implemented by our government, that ethically should not be considered higher standards (especially by a Christian).

Chris said...

Oh, and one more de jure change. Obama has set a new precedent that the POTUS can intervene in a foreign conflict, for an extended duration, not only without the consent of congress, but even against their lack of consent. This precent was established during the Libya invasion. This is a retrogression og the war powers act, which was meant to make war conduct operate on a higher standard.

So even if grant your premise that there are MINOR exceptions to every rule - the evidence I, and NotHobbes have suggested, is not minor. It's not like All men are mortal except Christ, where the outlier is one in tens of billions.

News articles about the war powers act and Obama's transgressions:

http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2011/05/white-house-on-war-powers-deadline-limited-us-role-in-libya-means-no-need-to-get-congressional-autho/

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/04/world/africa/04policy.html?_r=2&pagewanted=all&

Michael Llenos said...

I've just re-read the material and now I guess I've made some unclear statements, since I never re-read the material to begin with. My apologies...

However, answer me this question: do we randomly mass carpet bomb entire enemy cities now like we did in WW2? And do we use atomic bombs on enemy cities now like we did in WW2?

If not than we have improved in weaponry ethics.

Chris, the problem with your argument is that you are not trying to prove we haven't improved in some ways, but you are trying to prove we haven't improved in ALL ways.

What I am saying is that we have improved in some ways, and that is the truth. So if I wasn't clear about it before, I again apologize.

Michael Llenos said...

By the way, there is an exception to every rule is true.

I am a practicing Christian, but I do not think Jesus is the very same thing as God. And some Christians agree with me.

And this refutation of yours:

There is an exception to every rule. This is a rule. Therefore there is an exception to it. A universal contradiction now appears.

I say there is no contradiction to every single exception to every rule even to what you said. For you are trying to say that the entire argument now doesn't make sense, when the truth is that it is contradictory only in a particular manner. For you are not specifying relationship, manner or reference to all exceptions to a rule. Your argument, therefore, is not logically sound, and is even a fallacy in rhetoric and eristics.

Chris said...

Let's be clear about a basic distinction. You said we have a "higher standard" in fighting our wars. That is different than a change in weaponry ethics. We could return to fighting wars with our bare fist (better than using chemical weapons), but if we also eat babies during combat, our standards are certainly not higher. Now to address your point:

"answer me this question: do we randomly mass carpet bomb entire enemy cities now like we did in WW2? And do we use atomic bombs on enemy cities now like we did in WW2?

If not than we have improved in weaponry ethics."

Yes, Kissinger and Nixon were involved in this sort of bombing during the Vietnam war. Both in North Vietnam and Cambodia. So again, you need to change your date from WWII to Vietnam.

Now after Vietnam, bombing changed, and from that point forward you could try to make an argument. But I have been asking you if these changes in war were due to a change in technology or ethics. I assert technology. Because the aspects of war that have more to do with ethics*, and where technology plays little to no role, our ethics are increasingly getting worse. By no standards can we say that the new precedents in the war powers act, torture, rendition, assassination of american citizens without due process, indefinite detention, and redefining enemy combatants in a strike zone, is an improvement. Legally and morally some of these make the magna carta look like a beacon of the enlightenment.

"Chris, the problem with your argument is that you are not trying to prove we haven't improved in some ways, but you are trying to prove we haven't improved in ALL ways."

I'm trying to prove that in the areas where improvement is MORAL, and not technological, we have NOT improved. Or the very least that the degree in improvement is more a shift. We would not assert that because John has stopped torturing dogs, but now tortures cats, that he has improved. While we do not engage in certain bombing campaigns, we do engage in new forms of terrorism and death.







*(Remember we are one of the only countries in the world, and possibly the only industrialized western nation, that has not ratified the convention on cluster munitions. Showing that even though we don't use cluster bombs - as I assert for technological reasons - we do not think morally they ought to be banned!)
(The same applies to the ottawa treaty to ban land mines.)

Chris said...

Even if I was a Christian, I could just slightly augment the argument in such a way as to make it work. Moreover, even if you don’t believe Christ is god, I don’t think just referring to him as “a man” – as I did in my earlier deduction – is quite accurate either.
1. All men born of a non-virgin are mortal.
2. Joe is born of a non-virgin.
Therefore Joe is mortal.


My other argument is not a fallacy. It’s really quite simple, and it’s the same problem relativist run into. Now if you want to re-assert the argument to take into consideration other forms of reference and such, then that’s fine. But you asserted it in a very mundane and simple war, and thus it can be rejected with equal simplicity.

“There is an exception to every rule, and if you don't believe that, in this finite Universe we live in, than you're either foolish or mad. If you are not an omniscient being, how could you have 100% knowledge of anything?”

(Oddly you assert that one cannot have 100% knowledge of anything, but then pose a disjunction that says I’m either foolish or mad…)

But again, your premise, verbatim is:
There is an exception to every rule.
I am not incorrectly to say that this is a rule.
Thus there is an exception to this rule.
If there is an exception to every rule, and this is rule, then there is an exception to the claim that there is an exception to every rule, meaning there is not an exception to every rule.
Philosophers deal with paradoxes all the time. Better to say what I said, something’s have no exceptions. Then we don’t get contradictions.

Michael Llenos said...

Chris, a higher standard in fighting our wars is a genus or whole; while, a change for the better in weaponry ethics is a species (of that genus) or a part (of that whole).

And when you say THERE IS AN EXCEPTION TO EVERY RULE. THIS IS A RULE. THUS, THERE IS AN EXCEPTION TO THIS RULE.

You have to realize that because this Universe, that we live in, is finite, arguments can really only be based on probability and not on necessary events.

So there is a high probability that there exists an exception to every rule (and because this is a high probability) there is an exception to this rule, but only as a low probability.

However, as I have found out with most blogs, some people are just argumentative for the sake of argument. I believe we are both guilty of this, and who is more guilty or less guilty, who cares. Let this be an end, I hope.